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Spokesman cries separation of church and state as Iglesia vigil enters second night

(Updated 8:35 p.m.) The spokesman of the Iglesia ni Cristo on Friday insisted on the separation of church and state as the vigil by thousands of its members in front of the Department of Justice (DOJ) office in Manila entered its second night.

"Pangingikil sa kalayaan ng relihiyon natin. Huwag sana ninyo pakialaman ang relihiyon namin," said Edwin Zabala, addressing Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, whom they accused of meddling in Iglesia ni Cristo's internal affairs.

Zabala in addressing the Iglesia ni Cristo crowd apparently adverted to the case of former minister Isaias Samson who was subjected the group's discipline before he was eventually expelled.

He indicated that the government should not meddle in how in its doctrines especially in how to discipline its members.

Under Article II, Sec. 6 of the 1987 Constitution, "the separation of Church and State shall be inviolable" and the Bill of Rights bars the enactment of laws that will establish a state religion or that will prohibit the free exercise of religion.

"The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights," Article III, Sec. 5 of the Constitution says.

The animosity started when De Lima ordered an investigation on the alleged kidnapping of Samson, who has filed a serious illegal detention complaint against several Iglesia ni Cristo leaders.

Zabala denied Samson's allegation.

"Serious illegal detention daw pero sumamba. May nakakita. Para sa kanila, ang sagot, 'Eh di wow!" he said during a program outside the DOJ head office.

He also chided De Lima for allegedly believing in gossip.

"Etong si [Justice Secretary Leila] De Lima, naniniwala sa tsismis. Hindi siya (Samson) kinidnap pero ipinipilit niya pa rin," said Zabala.

Samson has claimed that he and his family were held against their will inside their home. He said
they were able to escape the guards at their house after they pretended to be attending a worship service.

De Lima did not go to the DOJ office on Friday. She has earlier claimed she was just doing her job in ordering an investigation on a complaint brought before them.

Zabala, meanwhile, branded as "pabebe" — a social media slang describing someone who is trying to be cute — those who are criticizing the Iglesia ni Cristo for using its huge membership to allegedly bully the DOJ.

Samson's lawyer earlier said in a statement that the Iglesia ni Cristo's response to the filing of criminal complaints against its leaders was done "in a manner that speaks of irrationality and non-responsiveness."

"They believe that a massing of people pressuring officials to rule in their favor is a strategy that gets them off the hook," read the statement.

"They fail to see that they look like bullies at the gate demanding that the DOJ rule in a certain way - their way. They fail to see that they aren't demanding justice, they are demanding special privileges," it added. —KBK/JDS/NB, GMA News